CLEVER WAYS to create the prettiest packaging for gifts of any size and shape.

Give it a flourish

Presents go from plain to charming when you add small embellishments.

Pleasing Paper Bag: Slipping an item into a paper bag is one of the most basic ways to wrap anything. Start with a colorful lunch sack, and dress it up with a band of patterned paper. (Trim the paper with the pinking blade on a rotary cutter, and attach with double-sided tape.) Then run the top through a sewing machine set on a decorative or zigzag stitch. Use the technique on gift tags, too.

Typewritten Tags: Instead of writing new tags every year, keep a file of names on your computer. Type personalized inscriptions, print onto card stock and cut out.

Winning Wine Bottle: Forgo the predictable wine bag in favor of this easy alternative: Fold two layers of 9-by-12-inch tissue paper in half lengthwise. Tape folded edge to one edge of a 12-inch square of scrapbook paper. Wrap bottle, and tape. Cinch tissue at neck with a ribbon, and add a tag.

Stick-on Design: Use blank stickers from an office-supply store to create polka dots or to spell out a name with rubber stamps. For the paper, stick to solid-color wrapping, which is versatile and economical. You can also spruce it up with bands of decorative paper.

The Sweetest Cards: A gift card feels like more of a gift when wrapped in paper or placed in a miniature envelope and packaged with a treat. Create them using glassine bags (or cellophane), bulk candy, labels and ribbon.

Be resourceful

Your grandmother, who unwrapped gifts carefully and saved the paper, was environmentally savvy before her time. Follow her example by maintaining a collection bin for paper scraps, fabric remnants and more. Then parlay your stash into attractive packaging.

Glittered Boxes: Give cardboard jewelry boxes a ruby-slipper-inspired makeover and you won't even need wrapping paper. Brush the tops with acrylic paint to cover the label; let dry. Apply craft glue, and then sprinkle on glitter in the same shade as the paint. For extra sparkle, finish with metallic ribbon or embroidery floss.

Glass Jars: Pack small presents into glass vessels, such as jam and preserves jars that would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin. (Remove labels with hot, soapy water.) Spray-paint the lids a bright shade, and add a matching ribbon and gift tag.

Paper Goodies: Put scraps and used pieces of wrapping paper through a shredder to create multicolored cushioning you can use in place of tissue or packing peanuts for fragile items.

Fabric Bows: Wide fabric ribbon is luxurious and pricey. You can get the look for less using scraps of cloth. Tear lightweight material, such as sheer cotton, to fray the edge. With heavier pieces, trim with a rotary cutter and then pull out threads to fray.

Paint-Swatch Tags: Consider turning leftover paint chips into colorful gift tags. Use a circle cutter or a tag craft punch to create the desired shapes. If you're penning notes on dark swatches, use a white gel pen for contrast.

Make it extra-special

For the favorites on your list, try one of these inventive packaging ideas.

Treasure Hunt: When a present is too large or unwieldy to wrap, heighten the suspense by offering a written clue or even organizing a scavenger hunt. The recipient might think she's getting a gift card, only to discover a shiny new bike in the garage.

Transparent Containers: Clear plastic boxes let you design packages that are beautiful inside and out. Nestle gifts in a blanket of faux snow, or top with baubles created with wreath ornaments.

Photo Tags: There's no question whom a gift is for when you put the recipient's photo front and center. Print the picture on adhesive paper, or adhere with double-sided tape.

Address questions to Ask Martha, c/o Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., 9th floor, New York, N.Y. 10001; or by e-mail, to:

mslletters@ marthastewart.com. Please include name, address and daytime phone number.